Study Reveals Vital Home-Shopping Behavior Information

Most design professionals would agree that understanding the "whys" of consumer purchasing behavior can be just as important as what they buy. After all, knowing the consumer psyche can help design professionals craft a memorable first impression when consumers come calling: a prospect that can rapidly boost a firm's bottom line.

With this in mind, Adrian, MI-based Merillat Industries, LLC has conducted a new research study titled Model Behavior How People Act, Think and Shop in a Model Home, designed to analyze model home shopping behavior from a retail environment perspective and help builders design kitchens that prospective buyers want.

Karen Strauss, v.p./marketing for the company, explains: "We feel we understand kitchens, but we didn't really understand the dynamics of people looking to buy a new home and the role the kitchen played. There was also the feeling that there is a similarity between the retail shopping process and the new-home shopping process."

She continues: "So, if this study can help our customers design better kitchens that clients want, that will help them sell more homes and can also benefit us in the long-run as well."

The study which took place over a five-month period and across four geographic areas consisted of the observation and interviewing of some 323 shopping groups and 153 shoppers as they perused various model homes.

Aiding in the study were New York, NY-based Envirosell and Milwaukee, WI-based Murphy Marketing Trend Town, which were commissioned by Merillat to unearth the "hows" and "whys" of retail decision-making, including consumer behavior and the role of the kitchen and kitchen cabinetry in the home-purchasing decision.

"We installed cameras in model homes and basically watched what people did and how much time they spent," she explains.
"We also had people create scrapbooks. They went in with a digital camera and took pictures of things in the kitchen that they either loved or hated and wrote captions underneath them. That was fascinating."

As Strauss notes, the study revealed some intriguing results. For instance, model home shoppers spent very little time in each model home. However, the kitchen and master bedroom were the two most important rooms shoppers considered when deciding whether or not to purchase a home.

"On average, people spend a little under nine minutes shopping a model home. They spend more time picking out a video for Saturday night," she notes. "Of the nine minutes spent in the model home, only 1:23 is devoted to the kitchen. That is not much time to make a statement."

But, she does also offer a softening blow: "Our research showed that, of the people who answered 'How interested are you in the kitchen?', nearly 76% of the people who said they were interested were also more likely to buy the home."

To that end, Strauss notes that consumers who are intrigued by a kitchen's prospects will return sometimes more than once to gain more information.

She explains: "What we found happening is people walk in and, for 18 seconds, take a panoramic look around. In those 18 seconds they start thinking 'Can I live here?' If they say yes, they will be back and start to spend more time. If they say no, they are on to the next one."

So, what are some products that intrigue consumers, according to the study? For Strauss, certain products jumped quickly to mind.

"Wood species is important to consumers," she notes. "But, consumers have a difficult time imagining the kitchen with a different wood species. So, it was interesting that wood species was the number one reason why someone fell in love with a kitchen, but was also the main reason why people would hate a kitchen."

She continues: "Without a doubt, people were also interested in pantries, especially storage. We had people say that, if there aren't more than 12 cabinets featured in a kitchen, they would walk out."

Solid surface countertops were also a big draw for consumers, as were Lazy Susans again reflecting consumers' need for storage.

Strauss notes: "Some builders are reticent about putting in upgrades because they think it might scare off a prospective buyer. But, in reality, the consumer wants to be 'wowed.'"

With this idea in mind, she advises: "We in the industry have to do a better job of showing the possibilities."
Also of note, according to Strauss, is that nearly 90 percent of the model-home shoppers came with somebody else.

"They want someone else's opinion," she says. "Either they are not confident or it is just more fun. But, most of all, they are looking for confirmation, because it is a big decision."

Concluding, Strauss offers: "Our message to our builders is, we have to help you get this room right. We need to create the 'wow' factor and we need to avoid some kitchen landmines. We know the kitchen is important, but now we have data that supports the idea that if you get the room right, you will have a better chance of selling the home."